Thursday 1 December 2022
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As Need for Pro Bono Legal Services Increases, Call Goes Out for Lawyers to Step Up

Patti Singer

State Sen. Jeremy Cooney said he would donate his services to JustCause, which provides legal services for civil matters to those in need. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Saying that justice is not a spectator sport, the head of an organization that provides free legal services for civil matters to income-qualified people called on more lawyers to volunteer to help individuals who have no options.

“Justice requires action,” said Tina Foster, executive director of JustCause, formerly known as Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County.

Foster announced the name change during a news conference April 29 at the Hall of Justice. Lawyers, including state Senator Jeremy Cooney and Hon. Craig Doran, state Supreme Court Justice and administrative judge for the state’s Seventh Judicial District, pledged their support.

“A lot of times as attorneys, as citizens, we’re looking for ways to make a difference,” Cooney said. “There are thousands of attorneys right here in the greater Rochester area. If every attorney donated just one hour of pro bono service, think about what our community could look like.”

The demand for legal services is expected to increase as COVID-related eviction protections are scheduled to expire May 1. The state budget included funding for tenant legal defense, and the city and organizations involved with the Telesca Center for Justice recently announced efforts to help people at risk of becoming homeless.

JustCause provides civil legal services in a range of topics that include family law, immigration and bankruptcy.

Each year, about 2,000 people receive full legal representation. About 10,000 people call the organization and receive some type of assistance.

Foster said JustCause would like to expand into the areas of racial and social justice.

“The moment we’re in, we need lawyers,” she said. “The turmoil we’re in, we need lawyers to help push forward the legal agenda of our next phase.”

Foster said lawyers coming out of school started pro bono work and it was something they routinely did. Now, she said, lawyers can seek other ways to get involved and give back to the community.

Foster said she hoped that 2,000 attorneys in the Rochester area would volunteer by the end of the year.

Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County was founded in 1981 by the Monroe County Bar Association to provide free legal services to people in need.

Since its start with one staff member and 75 volunteer attorneys, the organization has 17 full time staffers and 1,600 pro bono attorneys.

To contact JustCause, call (585) 232-3051.